The Detroit Pistons are building a special product that's gelling in its early stages. In the restoration phase for a franchise, it's important not to rush players outside of their means.
However, when some things are evident on the court, they're hard to ignore. A player that shines in the Summer League opens up opportunities during the preseason and regular season. Especially for a young rebuilding team trying to establish an identity.
The Detroit Pistons completed two victorious games of Summer League last week against the Portland Trail Blazers and the Washington Wizards. One major topic of conversation looks to have an obvious answer at this point. Rookie center Jalen Duren should be in the starting lineup to begin the regular season.
There has been plenty of debate on how the no. 13 overall draft pick should be utilized out of the gate. Common sense leans towards starting him slowly and bringing him off the bench; after his Summer League display, bringing him along as a starter makes the most sense. We also have seen reports that he could spend some time developing in the G-League.
As the youngest prospect out of the 2022 NBA Draft, his skillset and build persuaded the Pistons enough to trade up for him with the New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets. With a dire need for athletic size in the frontcourt, the center out of Memphis has shown to be exactly what general manager Troy Weaver wished for.
The move up for Duren seems to be paying off for the Pistons. While Summer League doesn't always indicate how a player's career will turn out, it does highlight what they're good at. Duren's most prominent strengths are athleticism and aggression around the rim. Of course, there are plenty of things he needs to work on. However, his biggest strength would be an immediate improvement for this team.
His impact has been glaring in Summer League so far. Duren is averaging 11 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks through the first two games in limited action. Detroit's deal to land Duren took about two weeks to finalize, which restricted his ability to play with the team before traveling to Las Vegas.
The Pistons have done an impressive job setting him up with lobs and easy dunks at the rim. Summer League has given Duren time to adapt to the pace and playmaking of Detroit's guards. There has been clear chemistry developing with each guard so far. One of his best plays against the Wizards featured a pick-and-roll slip where Duren dunked a lob from guard Charlie Moore over two defenders.
Throw it up and Jalen Duren will go get it pic.twitter.com/jBOBTAmFrq
— NBA (@NBA) July 9, 2022
Duren hasn't had extensive time with the primary guards of the Detroit Pistons yet. Point guard Killian Hayes only played one game of Summer League action, which featured a fast-break lob to Duren. No. 5 overall pick Jaden Ivey also has practiced some reps with Duren, including the first play against the Blazers being another alley-oop to the 18-year-old center. We likely won't see more highlights between the two in Summer League as Ivey injured his ankle in the first quarter against Washington.
We haven't seen any time yet between Duren and former No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham. The franchise point guard was listed on the Summer League roster, but the team has opted to preserve his health and not play him. As the team's best playmaker, the potential connection between Cunningham and Duren could be limitless.
The addition of Duren is also establishing an identity for this Detroit basketball team. Their new prized center, along with Ivey, brings a new element of athleticism to the Pistons. It also presents the advantage of playing fast in transition and playing high above the rim.
Their size and athleticism also provide the ability to maintain defensive versatility. Duren's 7'6 wingspan makes him an imposing rim protector, but he has also shown the agility to switch along the perimeter.
Duren has also flashed some other skills that could evolve over time. He has attempted a few mid-range face-up jumpers through Summer League. None of the jumpers have landed yet, but he is shooting with confidence and sound mechanics; this was also an attribute to his game as a prospect out of Memphis.
We also have seen some impressive vision and anticipation as a passer from Duren during Summer League. The first look came in the fourth quarter while posting up on the block. Duren backed down his defender and drew brief extra attention to fire a skip pass to big Isaiah Stewart for a knockdown three.
A Jalen Duren post up turns into a kick to Isaiah Stewart for 3. Well alright. pic.twitter.com/H2KBxTbYle
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) July 10, 2022
The next dime was also a fourth-quarter assist setting up a dunk. Duren again backed down his defender, drawing Braxton Key‘s defender away from him. Key slipped to the basket for an open-cutting dunk set up beautifully by Duren.
Won't lie I did not have passing on the Jalen Duren checklist but this has been fun. pic.twitter.com/kOktFlr1W2
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) July 10, 2022
These skills are not an immediate necessity for the growth of the Detroit Pistons. For now, Duren shows tremendous upside in his ability as a lob threat and paint protector on both ends of the floor. Detroit was shown how dangerous they could be with length and athleticism last season when they traded for forward Marvin Bagley. At 6'11, 250-pounds, Duren is more dynamic offensively and would make defensive assignments easier for his teammates.
The Detroit Pistons are coming off a 23-59 record, showing they're still a little time away from completing their rebuild. Plenty of development left means they're not in place for title contention yet. Playing Duren with the starters early wouldn't rush their restoration plans. He should be able to gel and progress along with the rest of the young core at an organic pace.
The frontcourt is still fairly crowded at the moment for Detroit. Duren will be competing for time at center throughout the season with Stewart and veteran Nerlens Noel. Stewart could rotate at power forward as well, but with Bagley and veteran Kelly Olynyk on the roster, minutes could be tight between them all. Another trade isn't off the table for the Pistons if they struggle early or see early growth from their young center.
Duren's success at center benefits the franchise most. As their youngest center with the most upside, he will be a big piece of their future plans. Even if his time is limited, beginning that chemistry as a starter isn't a stretch and would bring quite the dynamic to the Detroit Pistons. Duren's growth holds substantial value to where this team will go in whichever direction they go with the roster.